During the busy holiday period of Golden Week (early May) this year, an adventurous group of young international students from Tohoku University opted for a more peaceful alternative to fighting the tourist crowds – get off the beaten path and onto one wilder, less trodden but far more scenic!
(From the Michinoku Shiokaze Trail homepage)
The ‘Michinoku Shiokaze Trail‘ (literally ‘ocean-breeze of north Japan’ trail) is a 700km-long walking trail which hugs the stunning Pacific coastline beginning in Hachinohe in Aomori, winding through the majestic Sanriku National Park and ending in Soma, Fukushima. It is a relatively new trail with some areas still under construction, but scheduled to be fully completed this year (2018). As such, not many hikers have yet completed the entire length (read ‘Explore Tohoku’ below for the story of one courageous man who has!), but the route can also be separated into sections which are easily completed in a day or over a few days, depending on your ability, energy and sense of adventure (see the official homepage for details/maps etc: http://tohoku.env.go.jp/mct/english)
This time, our adventurers took on the stretch between Kesennuma in northern Miyagi Pefecture to the town of Minamisanriku (roughly 40kms), over a period of four days. The weather may not have been ideal, but no rain nor wind was going to stop these stoic travelers from making the most of their journey!
The chosen route: Kesennuma → Minamisanriku (Miyagi Prefecture)
Here are some of the highlights they discovered along their trip, along with useful information and links for anyone else considering a walk along the trail.
1. Ferry from Kesennuma → Oshima island
The starting point for the trip was Kesennuma City in northern Miyagi Prefecture. Instead of heading straight down the coastline, the group diverged to Oshima island to explore its many natural landmarks, dramatic rock formations and panaromic views. As such, the first leg of the journey was actually a ferry ride from Kesennuma Port to Oshima. The ferries leave the port around every 40 mins or so, with ride taking about 25 minutes and costing around 410 yen. For more details: http://oshima-kanko.jp/access/index.html
Scenes from the ferry ride between Kesennuma Port and Oshima
(More info about Oshima island here ↓)
2. Cape Tatsumaizaki
Located on the southernmost point of Oshima island, Cape Tatsumaizaki is a popular walking spot and look-out point. The name ‘Tatsumai’ literally means ‘flying dragon’ said to refer to the shape of the waves as the crash roughly on the rocks.
Some scenes from around the Tatsumaizaki area/Oshima island:
3. Mt. Kameyama
From the peak of Mt. Kameyama (235m) you can enjoy panoramic views over Oshima island as well as the Karakuwa Peninsula, Uranohama Beach and, if the weather is fine, you may even be able to make out Mt. Kinkasan in the distance. The view this time wasn’t exactly clear but was still incredibly atmospheric!
4. Cape Iwaisaki
Directly across Kesennuma Port from Tatsumaizaki is Cape Iwaisaki. One of the most recognisable landmarks on this cape is the ‘Dragon Pine’, which really needs no explanation:
Literally meaning ‘salt spray rock’, there are no surprises about this rock formation either! A small blow-hole sends salt water spray high into the air as the waves crash into shore.
5. Former Koyo Highschool Monument
Kesennuma’s Koyo Highschool building was completely destroyed by the tsunami of 2011 (fortunately all students and teachers were able to escape to safety). The south building has been preserved as a memorial of the tsunami, and serves as a hub for disaster prevention education.
6. Oya beach/ mine remains
Once a 2km stretch of sandy beach, Oya Beach was one of Tohoku’s most popular swimming beaches. After sustaining substantial damage in the 2011 tsunami, the sand is slowly returning and locals are working hard to return the beach to its former state. Not far away is the Oya mine remains, once one of the gold producing areas that supported the culture of the Fujiwara lords.
7. Bus from Koganezawa Station to Utatsu Station
Ending the day’s walk in Koganezawa (小金沢), it was onto a local bus to take us closer to the start of the next section of the trail to be conquered over day 3 (Utatsu Station 歌津駅) .
Bus timetable (only Japanese): http://www.miyakou.co.jp/cms/uploadfiles/output/4e0afc56-92cc-4431-ae7f-30e2c0a80207
7. Gyoja no Michi
Gyoja no Michi is a stunning 1.5km mountain path that was once used as a place of ascetic practice by local monks who would walk the path and meditate underneath the waterfalls.
Minamisanriku-cho Tourist Association (https://www.m-kankou.jp/program/13305.html/)
8. Mt. Tatsugane
Long revered as a sacred mountain by locals, it is said that there are eleven divine teachings buried at the summit of Mt. Tatsugane. It is also famous for its 50,000 azaleas which bloom in late May to early June, transforming the mountainside into a carpet of scarlet. There is a pretty spectacular view to be seen from the peak which looks out over Shizugawa Bay, Kesennuma, Kinkasan island and the Kurikoma highlands.
Minamisanriku-cho Tourist Association (https://www.m-kankou.jp/program/13305.html/)
9. Giant boulders at Mt. Shingyodo
At the foot of Mt. Shingyodo you can find these giant monolithic boulders surrounded by forest. Many of the boulders have cracks running through them and it is said that in the past people would try to pass safely through these cracks as part of a coming-of-age ritual. If your soul was good you would have no troubles passing through. If your soul was not so good, the opening would narrow and become impassible…enter at your own risk!
10. Iriya Hachiman-jinja
It is said that Minamoto no Toshitsune transferred a deity from the Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine in Kyoto to this shrine, Iriya Hachiman Jinja, in Minamisanriku whilst he was under the protection of Fujiwara no Hidehara. There is also an adorable statue of an octopus here, said to bring students luck in passing exams. Why an octopus? The combination of the Japanese verb ‘to place’ (置く Oku) and English verb to pass (in katakana, パス） suggests that the presence of the octopus alone will help you to pass: 置くとパス → okutopasu → octopus! Apparently.
Minamisanriku-cho Tourist Association (https://www.m-kankou.jp/mina_repo/9313.html/)
Day 4: Minamisanriku (cont.)
12. Daio-ji Temple
Boasting over 600 years of history, this famous temple in Minamisanriku is especially known for the beautiful pictures of nature that decorate its high ceiling. It was also historically famous for the many beautiful cedar trees which lined the path to the temple. Unfortunately, the trees were all lost in the tsunami in 2011. However, the wood from the trees is being used to rebuild a local kindergarten under the philosophy that the trees will continue to protect the next generation of Minamisanriku, as they once did the temple. Daio-ji Temple homepage: https://www.m-kankou.jp/english/project/daioji-temple/
Minamisanriku-cho Tourist Association (https://www.m-kankou.jp/english/project/daioji-temple/)
13. Ancient Kesen Rd
Follow the footsteps of the samurai along this ancient forest road, once used by the Date clan to traverse between Sendai Castle town and Kesen in the north.
Day 5: back to Sendai
14. Bus from Minamisanriku (Rikuzen-Togura) → Sendai
And after 4 full days of walking and adventure, it was time to give weary legs a well-deserved rest and reluctantly head home to Sendai by bus from Rikuzen-Togura. The bus costs around 1700 yen one way between Shizugawa Station and Sendai Station, and depending on the time you may have to also catch a shuttle-bus (replacement of train) between Rikuzen-Togura (陸前戸倉）and Shizugawa （志津川）. A timetable for buses can be found here (but only available in Japanese).
As the Michinoku Shiokaze Trail is still a relatively new trail, there are a few sections that have not yet been completed and some areas that still need a little work! Whilst much of the way is signposted, there are sections which are yet to be marked, or the signs are a little difficult to spot. Here are some tips relating to this particular section of the trail:
- We were not able to spot any official markers for the trail until Arasawa Fudo Temple in Minamisanriku (Day 3!).
- The signposting/guides for the ‘nature path’ on Oshima Island are also tricky to follow in some areas, so best to be vigilant when looking out for sign posts (we discovered many that had been knocked over, damaged or were hidden behind construction etc.). The path itself was also a little overgrown and in need of attention in some parts, so take care and watch your step!
- Particularly for the Southern Kesennuma section, it is recommended to just rely on Google Maps, as the path follows along the road for the most part (no nature paths).
- If you are using the maps listed on the Michinoku Shiokaze Trail website, be warned that they do not include distance or travel times between the start and ends points of each section!
- Furthermore, each section does not necessarily flow directly onto the next, and it is likely that you will need to take a bus from the end point of one section to the start of the next one (we did this on day 2 between Koganezawa Station and Utatsu Station).
- Be aware that Google Maps may not have updated completely following the earthquake/tsunami damage to JR train lines in the area. What google tells you is a train, may in fact currently be a bus (the buses are temporary replacements for the trains, so you should still end up in the right place!).
Accommodation & Campsites
森のコテージ Mori-no-cottage (around 3000 yen a night)
Homepage (Japanese): https://www.mrinoie.com/
Airbnb link: https://www.airbnb.jp/rooms/19297329
Notes: located 20mins walking distance from Matsuiwa bus stop (but google may get you lost so come prepared with a map/ask for directions).
(Night 1) Kesennuma (Oshima)
休憩村キャンプ場 ‘Qkmura’ Camp Ground, Oshima island
Notes: Overall a very nice camping ground, but some of the showers were broken at the time of our visit.
太平の森 Hesei-no-Mori (Camp Utatsu)
Notes: The camping ground itself is next to a sporting field and is limited to only 7 spaces. Reception closes at 5pm.
(Night 3) Minamisanriku
南三陸まなびの里いりやど ’Minamisanriku Manabinosato Iriyado’ Guesthouse
(Night 4) Minamisanriku
神割崎キャンプ場 Kamiwarizaki Camp Ground
We hope our journey has inspired your own adventure along the Michinoku Shiokaze Trail!
Check out the ‘Explore Tohoku‘ facebook page and the Michinoku Shiokaze Trail website for the most up-to-date information.